Published February 17, 2006
BERLIN – Germany's Dresdner Bank AG financed Nazi arms makers and owned a stake in a company that built crematoriums at the Auschwitz concentration camp, authors of a bank-commissioned study said Friday.
The 2,400-page, four-volume study is the result of seven years of work by a team of historians who scoured a huge number of the bank's files to detail its involvement with Adolf Hitler's regime before and during World War II.
The report "calls things by their proper names, and we accept these truths, even if they are painful," Wulf Meier, a member of the bank's management board, said at a news conference in Berlin.
Dresdner Bank, which was government-owned during the early years of the Nazi regime in the 1930s and remained under strong government influence after it passed back into private hands in 1937, was long known to have done business with the Nazi government — as did German big business in general.
Now a part of German insurer Allianz AG, it is the country's third-largest bank and does business in 50 countries.
What emerged from the study, the historians said, is that Dresdner was a part owner of Huta Hoch- und Tiefbau AG, a Breslau-based construction firm that built the crematoriums used to dispose of bodies at the Auschwitz death camp in occupied Poland.
Some 1.5 million people, most of them Jews, died at the camp from gassing, shooting, hanging, beating, starvation, disease or mistreatment.
According to Johannes Baehr, an economic historian at the Free University of Berlin, it was "the most extensive involvement by a bank in an accomplice firm in Auschwitz."
The company also financed Nazi arms plants and did extensive business with Nazi occupation authorities in Eastern Europe, for example in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Ukraine.
Two top bank executives, Emil Meyer and Karl Rasche, were members of Hitler's SS, or Schutzstaffel, a paramilitary organization whose involvement in Nazi crimes included running concentration camps.
The report said the majority of the bank's top managers were not Nazi Party members but nonetheless sought to take advantage of the business opportunities presented by close cooperation with the regime.
Meyer committed suicide at the end of the war in 1945 and Rasche was sentenced to seven years in prison by the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal for his activities.
The bank commissioned the study itself in 1997 amid public debate about the role of German big business during the Nazi era.
Dresdner Bank said it gave the scholars a free hand to probe the bank's archives and reveal what they found.
The bank was one of the business contributors to a 5.1 billion euro ($6 billion) business-government fund that began paying out compensation in 2001 to people forced to work as slave laborers to the Nazis.
Dresdner Bank's Meier said the bank would conduct internal discussions about any further steps today's bank needed to make in response to the findings.